What’s It Like to Work with the Rarest Rhino in the World?

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I started working at the Safari Park in 1983, and was working with the animals by 1984. The most frequently asked question I’ve had is “What is it like to work with rhinos?” Of late it’s been “What is it like to work with the rarest rhino in the world?”

One of my charges is Nola. She is one of only four northern white rhino alive on our planet. Their story is well known; the northern white rhino population has gone from 2000 in the 1960s, to 500 in the 1970s, to just 4 today. None of the four remaining animals can breed, so the only thing left for them is extinction.

Jane (left) & fellow keepers clip Nola’s nails

For me and the team that I work with here at the Safari Park, that’s just unacceptable. The Safari Park has been a captive breeding haven birthing more than 20,000 mammals, many of which are endangered. We are the most successful breeding facility in the world! The Safari Park has helped bring back species like the California condor, the Arabian oryx, the giant panda, and many others that could be lost to extinction if it weren’t for the work we do. The thought of not doing everything we can to help the northern white rhino is unimaginable. Yes, it will be complicated and difficult, but we can do it if we work as a global team.

Jane tends to Nola

Jane tends to Nola

As keepers, our part of the puzzle isn’t developing the science we will need, our part is to give the hands-on care these rhinos need to survive and thrive. For me, that means giving Nola the best care she can receive for her remaining days. At 41 she is the oldest recorded female northern white rhino. Her last day can be any day. My job is to make every one of those days a good one. It usually involves apples and alfalfa (something we now know is not a good thing for white rhino) and of course some love in the form of scratches behind her ears. For the rest of her life I am charged with being her lead keeper; the human she can most rely upon to take care of her. I plan on doing this job to the utmost of my abilities and give her the love that she needs.

You are part of her team too. Every time you support San Diego Zoo Global you support Nola. Your dollars will make the Rhino Rescue Center a reality. What I will do for you is share Nola’s remaining days with you. You can be part of her team that makes sure every day is a good day. Watch for my posts about Nola and what her days have been like. Thank you for caring about her, and all of the other animals being protected from extinction here at the Safari Park and San Diego Zoo. What we do makes a difference.

Jane Kennedy is lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Feeling Better and Getting Her Nails Done: Northern White Rhino at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Gets Pedicure.

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